The first wedding dress she put on was it. She glowed with the perfection of its fit while the rest of us cheered our approval. It was already the first Saturday in November, not much time before my youngest sister-in-law’s January date, and we all left the store with the happy vibe of a good sign. Plus a quick decision left plenty of time for lunch!
At Blue Lemon my mother-in-law asked a woman sitting nearby to take a picture of us, mentioning the upcoming event. The woman held up the camera and said, “I want you all to think of the love that you feel for each other today!”
A buzzing sensation tickled my ear—the kind that signals fateful interference. Something important was happening.
She handed us a few of her business cards, saying she felt like she should. I am extra interested in people who tune in to that frequency, so the buzzing got louder as we circled up to read the contents of her card. It outlined the main concepts from her new book about relationships, and she offered a free copy for the bride and groom.
I’m sure she had an inkling that more than just the newlyweds might need it.
Back in August, Hubby and I had sat at a table for two in our favorite restaurant, a tea-light candle flickering between us as we hammered out mutual frustrations.
“I’m just trying to get through each day,” he’d said.
“I don’t want to survive marriage,” I’d protested. “I want us to be good.”
Ironically we both had the same complaints: feeling like the other person was too critical, like neither of us had room to be ourselves, like we were walking on eggshells with each other. People told us it was normal with the stress of having four small kids, but my gut said to hell with normal. I knew we could do better than that.
Three times I had picked up the phone and dialed a marriage counselor, but I couldn’t bring myself to make an appointment. I didn’t want to rehash what he said and she said when he did this and she did that. All I wanted was a tune-up: somebody with the right tools to get things working smoothly.
Peering over the shoulder of my husband’s grandma, my cosmic-coincidence radar knew the card she held was my divine intervention.
Amazon rushed me the book (Love N Simplicity: The 7 Relationship Master Keys) and I dove in. But despite the signs from the universe pointing me there, I felt skeptical for one main reason:
Could you really fix a relationship if only one of you was reading the manual on how to do it? I wondered.
Still, it was worth a try. At first punctuation errors and a few other issues made me want to call the author and offer editing services. But I soon became too busy smacking my forehead with the epiphanies in every chapter.
Take the drama triangle, for example. I had never considered myself a dramatic person, but oh boy could I recognize occasional versions of me in the rotating roles she described: victim, villain, hero. I realized she was so right that even playing the hero is a bad move: it’s like “helicopter” parenting, only I was doing it to my husband—assuming he wasn’t capable of handling his own life! Seeing it that way helped me begin to steer clear of all three habits.
Now when he asks me for advice, I respond, “What do you feel best about?” He has always been amazing at trusting his intuition, and I have finally learned to back off and let him.
Because really what I learned how to do was let go. I’ve been trying to do that in various areas of my life for years, and this book finally taught me how to release my expectations where it counts: with the man I love most.
- I let go of thinking I knew better than he did.
- I let go of trying to change him.
- I let go of worrying how he would react to things I said or did.
- I let go of basing my self-esteem on his opinions instead of my own.
- I let go of reacting defensively.
- I let go of taking myself too seriously.
And miraculously, as I did all those things, he mirrored them. Within a week, we were sharing funny stories from our separate day and laughing together and slipping into a marriage that was the opposite of the normal “hard work” everyone insists it is. Suddenly it was easy.
This past weekend we traveled down to Arizona for the wedding. Anyone who has little kids knows that “vacations” with them are anything but relaxing—more like fraught with peril. But this time we were able to navigate the tension of it so well. As we pulled up to the airport for our Southwest flight (read: no assigned seats), we debated strategy.
“Okay, but I’m not sure I can handle all the kids and all the bags.” I said this in a very normal tone, not in the defensive, argumentative way I might have before. His drama-free statement let me respond truthfully in the same easy voice.
“No, just take the toddler and get checked in so you can get seats. I’ll bring the bags.”
“Well,” I thought out loud, “I could take one of the boys to push her in the stroller and then I could take some bags with me too.”
“That would be great.”
Maybe other people figured out that kind of respectful exchange long ago, but to us in a stressful situation it feels miraculous.
Even when we revert to old habits and one of us gets dramatic, we snap out more quickly each time and the apologizing is simple: “Sorry I was being such a dork earlier. Not sure what came over me.”
When we want different things we have become open to letting each other be his or her own person, secure in our own preferences.
When unwanted feelings come up, we are learning to process them quickly. I scoffed at the book’s claim that it takes only 10–30 seconds for an emotion to pass, but once I began experimenting, I was amazed. Again the secret is letting go and being okay with what you are feeling. Funny enough, when your body feels heard, the emotional message can be ultra-brief and not so intense—another drama-free relationship.
Perhaps my favorite concept, though, is how she tells readers to stop seeing a relationship as two fractions instead of two whole people. Lots of advice insists that even if marriage isn’t 50/50 all the time, we should be okay with other divisions like 90/10. I love that she refutes that: each person should be 100% taking care of his or her own emotional needs. When two whole people are in a relationship, everything they create together is bonus!
So really in many ways the secret is to be okay with yourself:
“When we deeply love ourselves, loving others will naturally flow without any effort on our side. When we honor, treasure, respect, nurture and value ourselves, being this for others is easy! It won’t be something we have to try to do but will come so naturally that it won’t even be an issue. We just will be it, live it and do it.” (244–245)
I’m still amazed that one book and zero therapy sessions could do this much for our marriage.
Our next task is to see if it can translate to easier parenting too . . .